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Council Passes Two Bills Reforming Medical Examiner's Office After Scandals

By Janon Fisher | September 13, 2013 8:53am
 Two bills increasing transparency in the medical examiner's office passed the City Council on Sept. 12, 2013.
Two bills increasing transparency in the medical examiner's office passed the City Council on Sept. 12, 2013.
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CIVIC CENTER — The City Council passed a pair of bills Thursday to improve accountability in the medical examiner's office after a series of scandals, high-level departures and a scathing report on the office's DNA lab.

Under the reform legislation, the medical examiner will be required to investigate any "significant" errors or incidents that affect DNA analysis and then report those findings to the mayor and the City Council.

In January, the office announced that it was reviewing 50 cases in which DNA evidence samples had not been loaded into a state database so they could be compared with the genetic code for previous offenders, The New York Times reported.

The medical examiner also admitted that one of its technicians had failed to detect DNA evidence in samples from 26 rape cases, according to the Times.

A review of the forensic lab by an outside consultant found that rivalries between managers hindered cooperation in the department.

"Management at the Forensic Biology Laboratory is weak," Sorenson Forensic consultant Timothy Kupferschmid wrote in his report. "Leadership, including Director of the Laboratory, must change."

The lab tech, a head of the DNA Unit, her deputy and the head of quality control there have all resigned or been fired.

Kupferschmid was then hired to take over the lab.

The second bill that was passed by the City Council Thursday requires the office to post information about the technical proficiency of the lab workers after it was discovered that some techs were performing tasks they were not qualified to do.

"Making such data public represents a critical step forward by improving transparency in the criminal justice process overall, aiding in the achievement of what every victim deserves — justice," Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who co-sponsored the legislation, said in a statement.

The medical examiner's office said it welcomes the reform.

"The [Office of the Chief Medical Examiner] engages in best practices, including root cause analysis, and this additional level of transparency will ensure the full confidence of the public," spokeswoman Ellen Borakove said.